Tuesday, October 27, 2015

My Previous Marathons, pt. 2

After I finished Bay State in 2013 I wasn't terrifically pleased in my performance. Don't get me wrong, I was happy about having run my first marathon, but I had to stop towards mile 22 for some walk breaks. I really wanted to know, "How fast can I do this if I don't have to walk?"

I know some plans advocate using walk breaks. But to me the art of endurance means finding a way to stay in one set of movements for a specific period of time. I sort of feel like if I can't run the whole thing, then I'm not a marathoner. I want to minimize those times spent walking, stopping for aid stations, etc.

So I set a bunch of goals post-Bay State 2013. I wanted to run the Runner's World Heartbreak Hill Festival in June of the following year (5k/10k/13.1 in one weekend). I also figured I would enter the lottery for Marine Corps., which opens in March. I'd wanted to run Marine Corps. since hearing multiple accounts of the race in the running books I was reading at the time. Bart Yasso happens to tell some very good stories about it, as well.

There was also a family benefit to running Marine Corps. The race in held in Washington, D.C., and my paternal grandfather used to travel there for work quite a bit when I was a kid. He was a civilian engineer with the Navy, so Kings Bay, Seattle, and Washington were all in the regular rotation. I figured if I could go run Marine Corps., maybe he could come with me to spectate. It would be a good bonding exercise.

My wife and I traveled out of state in March to help some friends move. I remember the lottery closing, and then for days hearing nothing. I helped my friends load furniture into a U-Haul and told them, "I guess I didn't get through. That's life, there will be other races."

Days later I got an email in the early hours of the morning.

I got into the 39th Marine Corps. Marathon!

I was ecstatic. I bought a bunch of "in-training" gear and set out to pursue a training plan. I used another about.com plan, and tweaked it so I would have my long runs in a similar fashion as my first plan.

But life has a way of throwing curve balls at you. Mine came in the form of a house. My wife and I bought our first and current house in June of that year. The house came with projects, and a new neighborhood I hadn't run much in. I still managed to log a bunch of miles in July and August. Come September I was feeling pretty good, but my weekly mileage was starting to drop as we went back to work.

I think the lesson here, was that I had no clue how to taper. I understood the idea of dialing back the mileage, but not the idea of maintaining the intensity. I actually dialed up the intensity.

When I saw the results weren't working, I started trying to add supplemental workouts. I have no idea why I did that. That was pretty stupid.

The result was that I was burnt out. By the time we went to Marine Corps. all I wanted was to finish and enjoy the race. On race day I stood at the starting line and watched the American flag parachuted in overhead. The pagentry of that race was remarkable.

As I started running, I felt pretty good. I figured that I wasn't prepared to PR the distance on an unfamiliar course, so I may as well run strong and have fun. I came through the 10k in 51 minutes. That was a projected finish of 3:37. That was nuts, but I figured if I could hang there it would be really incredible.

At the half point I was at 1:47 on the clock. That's about 7 minutes slower than my current half PR. Mentally I knew this was too fast. But again, I figured if I needed to slow down, I would. I should have taken it easy at this point and tried to maintain some strength.

I hit the 30k mark in 2:35. That would still have had me finishing in 3:38. I felt pretty good at that point. Then I hit the bridge.

See, in the MCM you break the race down mentally into a couple of sections: Charge the district, beat the bridge, and "take the Iwo". I hadn't run many races where I was concerned about the cut-off time, but at Marine Corps. the cut off is on a highway bridge. For some reason, even though it was completely illogical, I felt like I had to power my way to that bridge or be trapped forever in front of the Capitol. When I saw the mile 20 sign on the bridge, I knew I was good. And then my mental game totally melted down.

Between the 30k and 40k marks, I had to start throwing in walk breaks. Partly I think this was the sun beating down on us (no cover on that bridge), partly it may have been the number of other participants walking at that point. A pack mentality can sometimes hurt you as much as it helps.

It isn't a great feeling to be walking at that point in a marathon. I mean, you have 10k left. You certainly can't stop, but my god did I want to.

I pushed through and into Crystal City. It was unbearably hot. Fortunately there were a couple of fire trucks set up with hoses for runners to run under, which was really nice. I came through the 40k mark in 3:38:38, projected finish of 3:50. The last couple of miles were mostly walk/run for me, and the spectators were very few along the stretches of highway. As we approached Arlington National Cemetary, I could see the Iwo Jima memorial and started to trot up the hill. I planned to end the race running, and I probably ran the last quarter mile of it.

MCM puts some fun decals on the ground at that hill. Arrows point your way and say "MARINE UP!" When you go past the stands and through the chute, you're facing a line of Marines handing out medals in front of the Iwo Jima Memorial. In my memory, it is the most beautiful place a long run has ever ended. I finished in 3:52:08.

Runners were fainting in front of me, being carried off by Marines. I shook the hand of a uniformed Marine. "How was your run?" he asked. "It wasn't what I wanted it to be," I said, "But I'll be back. You'll see me here again, for sure."

"Great! Glad to hear it." he replied.

The Marines are the most impressive force I have ever seen when it comes to logistical organization and execution. From the Marines I met at 4 am waiting for the shuttle to the guys right at the end of the line, every one of them was helpful, polite, and knowledgeable. There is nothing like a race where you hit an aid station, say "Thankyou Marines!" and receive an "Oo-rah!" in unison from 14 really enthusiastic volunteers. My performance at the race let me down but the experience I had still exceeded my wildest dreams. If MCM isn't on your bucket list, it needs to be. You owe it to yourself.

I felt pangs of karmic guilt when I didn't get through the lottery for the 40th MCM. I failed my sport in my lack of devotion to training. But I feel some level of redemption at my most recent performance at Baystate 2015. Overall I've evolved in terms of how I see endurance sport: maybe I don't have to be the fastest. My goal is to go farther, even if I never qualify for anything.

I want to run places I've never seen, see courses that everyone raves about. I want to live a strong life and set the example to my descendants that you can achieve anything you set your mind to, even if people tell you it isn't worth it.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Throwback Thursday #8 -- Excuses and Canker Sores

Continuing to migrate all of my old MFP blog posts over here in this weekly series, we continue with a few rambling thoughts on excuses and canker sores. These feelings come to me every year, as I tend to experience doldrums in late winter.

Aerobic activity manages to keep me afloat and functional, but I still require a bit more sleep, and it can be pretty hard to stay positive at times.

Excuses and Canker Sores

I've been slacking a lot this past couple of months with my running. My weight is holding the same, but I am feeling lousy. Less energy than when I'm running regularly, but with the bitter cold it is very tough to drag myself out of bed most days...
I am running the Eastern States 20 miler on March 30. I'm excited about it, even though I expect it will be a tougher run at my current level (or lack there of) of training. The course runs from Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Salisbury Massachusetts along the New Hampshire sea coast. I've played weddings around the New Hampshire sea coast before, and it is a really lovely place! Should have some gorgeous views.
I'm also nursing a really nasty canker sore at the base of my tongue, left side of my mouth. It makes eating extremely unpleasant so I've had a couple of days this week where I just couldn't make a reasonable number of calories. I've always had a history with these sores, maybe a couple every other month. Usually they are very painful but this one, because of the location on my tongue, is without a doubt the most painful thing I have ever experienced.
I was reading last night about using alum (which is used in pickling) as a treatment for this. I've never heard of that before, but I may actually try it out as this thing is becoming intolerable and has been around for four days now.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Race Report: Baystate Marathon (Lowell, MA)

At midnight I reach the base of homebound hill
One more mile to go before I sleep
and in my mind I hear the call of the road
the Mother Marathon beckons to me
the Marathon of memory
the first long run


This past weekend I ran the Baystate Marathon for the second time in my running career. Those of you have read my post on here about my first attempt know that it was my first marathon. It meant a lot to me.

I decided to register for Baystate again this past summer because I wanted to put my training to the test. This past summer I ran without a plan, just working on projects around the house (putting in a new floor, building a half wall around the basement stairs to baby-proof the kitchen, plastering and painting walls, and more.) The time spent on the house meant I didn't have much time to record runs anyway in a journal, so I recorded everything in my Strava App.

After working for eight or more hours on projects I would set out late at night for a variety of rambles. I've done enough training plans before that I knew to stick a set of hill or speed workouts once a week, a long run, and also a tempo run. The other runs were just to build up base mileage. I also decided I'd try and get a good running streak in. I ran for 70 days straight through the summer.

My heaviest mileage week was 50 miles, and I topped out in my long runs at about 19.5 miles. I didn't do a 20 mile run, so I wasn't sure if that would help me or hurt me. Also, because of the crazy commitment I have to my professional career, the two weeks before the race weren't really high mile weeks. This is good from a taper sense, but you're really meant to maintain the intensity as you lower the miles in a taper. I didn't really have the energy for that so I just got some miles in and focused on quality rest.

I did run a test race in the Jamestown half marathon, in September. The pace I set was pretty decent given that the course was very hilly, and running so close to my PR I figured my fitness was close to what it was in 2013 when I first ran Baystate.

My wife and I booked a hotel up in Andover for the Saturday before Baystate. The marathon had to cancel its pasta dinner due to so much interest and it being a logistical impossibility to make that much pasta. We opted to go to the cracker barrel near the hotel for dinner.

The next morning we woke up at 4am, and drove to the Tsongas Center parking. I had visions in my head from my previous running of waiting in a massive amount of traffic, but being that we arrived four hours before the race, there was no one there. We slept in the car for a couple of hours, I pounded the rest of my breakfast, hit the port-a-john and then at about 730 we started mulling around the chute.

It was cold. I was very cold. I lost feeling in my toes. I entered the chute at about 750, kissed my wife goodbye and told her I would see her at the finish area in a few hours. The national anthem played, and before I knew it we were off bounding through the streets of Lowell on frozen feet.

I decided that given my previous experience of going out too fast I would hang with the 3:45 pace group this time. If I felt good at the last 5k, I could maybe try to layer the speed on. But I reasoned there wasn't any sense to trying to go for broke when I wasn't trying to prove much to myself. To be honest, I wasn't really feeling the run. I was nervous (I'm not sure why) and I was tired. I didn't know if I could really cover the distance. I just banked on being able to gut it out.

So I hung with the 3:45 group. The pacer for the first half was the same pacer I remember giving me a big pick me up near the end of the race in 2013. He was a very nice guy, and I really enjoyed his conversation and light attitude. At about mile 10 the pacers switched off so we could have an even pace all the way to the end. The new guy was nice, too. But the pack was really pretty quiet. We went through mile 20, where the organizers paint a shattered brick wall on the ground and he said to us, "Normal people run out of glycogen at 20 miles. But you aren't normal people. You're marathoners."

That gives one a massive sense of pride. However, I was having an increasingly hard time hanging with them. Come mile 22, I was starting to drag, even though I'd pounded down a hammer gel every hour of the race. I sipped at water on the fuel belt I had on. "OK", I thought, "...time to reassess,"

My goal in any race is primarily to finish. I was sure I would finish this marathon. My legs had carried me to 22 miles at that point, and even though I dropped a bit behind the pace group, I knew I could tough it out. Look at the river? Maybe the trees. Maybe just keep your head down and don't look at the slight incline in front of you.

My second goal at Baystate this year had been to run the entire 26.2 miles. Not stopping to walk. Previously in Baystate I stopped to take a couple of walk breaks. That was helpful, because I had gone out too fast, but it is tough to recover from when you stop late in a race like that. Your mind at that point can be so set on giving up. In Marine Corps. in 2014 I had a similar problem at the bridge. I hadn't been aware we'd be on the bridge with the sun pounding down on us for all that long. It wore me down just being there. I also wasn't terribly experienced with how to fuel for those races, so that may have been an issue as well.

"This time around," I thought, "...an even pace."

"...and no walking."

Lastly my goal had been to hang with the 3:45 pacer the whole time. Finishing with him would be a PR of about two minutes. That would have been awesome, but as I watched them slowly pull away from me, I knew I wasn't going to hang for the last six miles.

I gutted it out. This year, the organizers had printed our names on our bibs, and I was overwhelmed when people in the crowd looked at the bib and called to us by name, "You're looking great, Mike!"

"You can do this!"

It reminded me a lot of my experience running the BAA Half. The crowds were massive and exuberant. They called to us individually, telling us that we were awesome. Treating us as conquering heroes, while our legs stilled battled with the distance and our minds shouting contradictory things every other minute.

In those last four miles, Lowell felt an awful lot like my own personal Boston.

As I crossed the finish line I landed firmly on a joyous pad of endorphins. I knew I came in around 3:50, but I wasn't sure of chip time since I'd spent some time in the chute at the beginning. I got my space blanket, medal, water bottle and started to stumble off towards the food tent. A nice volunteer saw that I was sort of a disaster, trying to carry my fuel belt and handle the other stuff I had. She stopped me and tied the space blanket around my shoulders so it wouldn't fall, and helped me put myself together.

I wandered off and found my wife in the crowd. We stumbled towards the car where I got changed and we headed home for lunch and a magnificent afternoon of lazing in bed. Later in the afternoon I got an email with my official time of 3 hours, 48 minutes, and 48 seconds. I was so close to my PR, but I am so satisfied with that effort and the training hours I put into it this summer.

Baystate is, at this point, one of my favorite races. I love it like a family member. I'm not sure if I will run it again next year, as I have a goal of running in places I'd love to see. If I get the chance to travel for a fall marathon I've never done, I will probably take the opportunity. But I know for sure that I'll be back to Baystate.

My recovery has been very smooth, too. I went back to work the next day, ran an easy 5k, and have been moving very well with only a little muscle fatigue. I'm only three years into my journey as an endurance athlete, but I think I'm finally starting to feel at home as a long distance runner.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

My Previous Marathons

I am planning to publish this post in about mid-October, 2015. If all goes well in my training that will mean you'll be reading this post around the time I will be tapering for and talking about my upcoming Bay State Marathon on October 18th.

I've also been toying with the idea of running a second marathon two weeks later on my birthday, and partly because it is very close to my home town. I'm thinking of this as a "last hurrah" for awhile, should I have a hard time getting in marathon races after the arrival of our first child. This is a long post but I hope will help readers get a sense of where I am in my development as a recreational runner.

So as I write about my experiences in physical endurance, I thought it may be useful to write a brief summary of my racing experience so far. To start with allow me to say that I am not a competitive runner. Actually, I am, but I'm only competitive with myself. I'm not ever going to be an elite athlete.

I started running (as it says many places on this site) a few years ago to get in shape. Racing was not a real part of my goal at that time. I thought of it as all-out competition. Now I see racing more as a chance to test one's self against the clock and past times. I see it as an opportunity to meet new people and experience new places. I love racing for those reasons.

As of my writing this I've run about 37 or so races. Multiple 5ks, a couple of 10ks, Half marathons, and two full marathons. There are also a couple of novelties in there – races of 4.3 miles, 10 miles. The marathons are the big deal to me, the races I am the most proud of.

37 isn't a ton of races. I mean, it is more than I thought I'd ever run. Whatever. I'm rambling now.

I first laced up my black Puma sneakers for the Amica 5k in Newport, RI. The date was October 13, 2012 and I had only been running for about six months. I had been reading Amby Burfoot's “Big Book of Running”. I'd been studying, and putting the stuff I was reading into action, and so I felt pretty confident that I could run 5k. I wasn't really sure what to expect for a finishing time, but it seemed reasonable to me to aim for sub-30. I crossed the line in 28:42.

That first race was a pretty interesting thing. It wasn't enjoyable in the slightest. I didn't warm up, and I pushed too hard. I wasn't in any kind of racing shape, and at the end I felt ready to puke because I had no idea how to cool down my aerobic system after such an effort. The people running the race weren't too chatty, or too friendly. I mean no one was outwardly mean, but certainly not there to start chatting mid-race.,

I felt a sense of accomplishment, though. I looked at my time at the end, printed on a sheet of paper and taped to the side of a trailer, and I felt a sense of ownership of my running and myself as an athlete.

Because what if I had been wrong about who I was up until that point? What if I was someone who actually COULD do those things? That would be amazing. “Hey,” this little voice in the back of my head whispered, “...do you want to see how deep the rabbit hole goes?”

Hell yes, I do.

I started training more seriously. I started the Runner's world challege, and ran every day between thanksgiving and new year's day. I jumped in the Atlantic Ocean on New Year's Day. I trained on treadmills through the winter and spring, and decided to attempt my first half marathon in May of 2013. It was in my home state, running from the capital and into my home town before doubling back. I didn't know anything about race effort, or the mental toughness that you can bring to an effort on race day. I just knew it was raining, and I was concerned about how I was dressed. Still, by mile 3 I figured I may as well push it and see what happened. I surprised myself and ran a 1:41:23 with a pace of 7:45/mile. I had some conception of what it was to run that fast. But I had no idea I could run that fast for that sustained a time before. When my Aunt called me prior to a family trip to Colorado to ask, “There is a 10k in Leadville. You in?”

My response was of course, “Hell yes I'm in.”

Leadville is a tough place to race. At all. Anyone who has read Chris MacDougall's book Born to Run and the accounts of the Leadville Trail 100 knows that. Leadville's terrain is pretty pitchy, and the out and back for the 10k goes over some very well kept trails. But I wasn't used to running on trails, so that was tough. Even tougher still because of the elevation.

6.2 miles has never been my favorite distance, but I had to be able to say I ran in Leadville. I wanted to own that. I wanted – in some small way – a connection to that sacred place.

My lungs, on the other hand, had no idea what “12,800” feet of elevation would feel like. I tried to talk to them, but lungs are notoriously thick-headed. It is like they just don't want to cooperate unless they can have enough air. I slowed down to walk large sections of that 10k, and then because I foolishly didn't eat right after the race, I passed out in the bar – before even getting my beer – due to altitude sickness.

But training in the altitude did help me, I think, prepare for my effort in the marathon that fall. You see, while out in Colorado, I had a long talk with my Aunt and one of her friends. They convinced me that the marathon really was achievable for me, and that the Bay State Marathon in Lowell, MA would be a good starter marathon. Flat and fast, the Bay State helps one quarter of its entrants to achieve a Boston Marathon Qualifying time each year. I wasn't expecting that, but I wanted to cover the distance.

So I set out continuing my marathon plan, after Colorado. I've always been a person who needs hard data. Stuff has to be proven to me. So to race the distance without first running the distance seemed silly. Each week I would get up on Saturday morning and embark on a long run in increasing long distances. These started at about 10 miles, but went all the way to the marathon distance of 26.2 miles. At the end of each run I would come home – at the end of the 26.2 I actually had my wife pick me up down the street – and take a nice ice bath and a solid nap. I knew from training that I could cover the distance in about 4 hours. But that was running easy, so I didn't really know what to expect from race day.

On October 20th, in 2013 I toed the starting line at Bay State. It is a beautiful course, and to this day feels fondly of home in my memory. I went out to fast – a common refrain heard among beginning marathoners – and had to talk some walk breaks, only starting to run again when the 3:45 pace crew came up on me. They were some of the nicest guys I have met in a race. They talked to me, encouraged and cheered me on, and when I told them I had to hang back they didn't put any judgement on me. I finished two minutes behind them to complete my first marathon in 3 hours, 47 minutes and 53 seconds. In the finishing chute an organizer draped his arm around me and said “How are you?! You're still looking fresh!”

“I appreciate you saying that, but I feel like shit.” came my reply.

“Well, you'll be hooked after this race now. I'm sure we'll see you back.” came the ever optimistic reply. I went and found the 3:45 pacers to thank them and introduced my wife to them, “You guys saved my race. I really appreciate it.”

“You did a good job on your first marathon, man. You'll catch the bug now, I'm telling you.”

The thing is that they were all totally right. I'm on my way back this fall to run Bay State (after being somewhat disappointed in my performance at Marine Corps.) I can't wait to go home to the marathon of my memory, and put down on the course what I've learned in the intervening two years.

I'll continue this post in part 2, talking about the 39th Marine Corps. Marathon.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Throwback Thursday #7 -- Red Quinoa and Bean Stuffed Peppers

A recipe from my old MFP blog, originally posted January 20, 2014.

8 oz can tomato sauce
2 medium orange bell peppers
Red Quinoa
Red Kidney Beans (I used Goya 15.5 oz can)
Onion Powder
Garlic Powder
Cayenne Pepper
Piquin Chili


To begin, rinse and drain kidney beans. I seasoned these separately, placing them in a pan and heating them a bit with the piquin chilis, a dash of salt and pepper. This lets you use them for another recipe, since you only really need about half of them for the peppers.

Place 1 cup red quinoa in a pot with one and a half cup water. Bring to a boil and place on low heat. Cover the pot and allow to sit about 15 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash peppers, cut out the top and remove seeds by rinsing the inside. Set aside.

Add the tomato sauce to the Quinoa, and then a dash of salt, 1 tsp garlic powder, 2 tsp onion powder. I used about 1 tbsp each of oregano, cayenne, and paprika. For a real kick, use hot paprika. Once this is all mixed taste and see if any of the seasonings need to be adjusted. Add in kidney beans with piquin chilis. Add in about 1 tbsp of lime zest, 2 tbsp of chopped cilantro.

Fill the peppers with the mixture, bake in oven for about 25 minutes. I like my peppers with a little bit of bite, you could leave them in longer if you want them softer.
Garnish with additional cilantro, lime zest, and lime juice. Top with cheese if desired.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


As (I believe) I've mentioned on here before, my writing and publishing schedule is a little odd. It is this way by design. Between home, work, and racing season the fall is a really rough time for me. As such I laid out 25 or so posts to fill the time between September and December during August and September of this year. So, going forward as I write I have to keep in mind that you will be seeing these things quite a bit after the events I'm writing about have happened. 

I'm interjecting this post into the publishing schedule. I wanted to have some information here on the nursery.

There isn't a huge reason for me to explain all that. Writing and publishing this blog has a fairly immersive feel to me, though, so I'd like to bring you along. If any of that nonsense feels like filler to you, however, feel free to skip my useless explanations in the future.

This weekend was Columbus Day weekend. We had set a goal of finishing up the nursery by this time, so it meant really buckling down and doing it. Thursday of this week we went and bought the flooring materials and paint, and then Friday handled all of the moving of things. Saturday I removed the carpet, carpet tacks and the rest with the help of some friends. I was stunned to find the sub floor in impressive condition! Elsewhere in our house this was never the case. I will talk about that later.

With the sub-floor cleaned up we decided to prime and paint the walls before laying down the new floor. So, the first coat of primer and then paint went up Saturday. Sunday saw us finishing the second coat and laying down the new laminate flooring with the help of two very good friends. We decided to have the bedrooms be one type of laminate, and the living room/kitchen another type. It looks pretty sharp.

Then we put together the crib and moved the glider and ottoman in there. Tomorrow we'll be putting the bureau together (which I'm told is a really big job.) Then some decorations. It is odd. Since we've moved into our house this room has been mostly filled with stuff. We always intended for it to be the nursery, but we never really needed a third bedroom during the time we were renting so I think we were at a loss for what to do with it in the interim. Now it feels a bit more real, seeing the crib and the glider, the beautiful youthful green and robin's egg blue walls. Something big is coming.

I feel like the house is more complete now. It belongs to us more, somehow. It looks quite different than it did a year ago, and we've become different people just by the act of working on it. I never imagined I would know how to lay new flooring. I never figured I'd run a water line to the frige before, either.

This coming weekend is the Baystate Marathon up in Lowell, Mass. My wife and I will be heading up on Saturday to stay overnight, and I'll be running the next day. From the info I've seen in the emails things are different than when I last ran this marathon (my very first marathon) in 2013. Shuttles now from the hotels, and no more pasta dinner. Oh well. Should still be a lovely run, on a course that is still the definitive race I think of when I hear people talk about the distance of the marathon.

Will I run a PR? I don't know. I feel like I'm in pretty good shape and I've had an uneventful taper. I've gotten in some easy miles these couple of weeks with friends, running for the fun social benefits the sport can bring. I've also hit a stretch where I now have to consider seriously altering my race schedule as we get closer to the due date. That was expected, but it is making this all feel more real to me.

I've been tossing around the idea of running a local marathon on my birthday. It is two weeks after Baystate. I certainly wouldn't expect to PR that one at all. I'd expect to take it easy, give it to myself as a gift of motion to start my third decade on the planet. But we'll see how I feel. I've never run that distance so close together before.

Here's to the unpredictability of life, and the roads that take us to a more complete space.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Throwback Thursday #6 -- Unconventional Running Music

Some of these tunes remain on my running playlist. Others have gone past, or only see use in different intensity workouts.

Here's the post from January 22, 2014: "Unconventional Running Music"

The post in which I talk about some unconventional running music.

So, I'm not sure how many of you on my friends' list know, but I am a music teacher. I've been a musician since I was about 10 years old. I've been listening to music (obviously) longer than that. When I took up running I brought some weird music with me, and I've found it helps with different types of runs.

From time to time on MFP's forums, I see people posting for ideas on what kinds of music to listen to. I'm always surprised by the amount of death/heavy metal that gets posted in those threads, but to each his own. Without further ado and in no particular order... Some of my less than conventional running music:

1. Bombino -- Adounia (Life)
Bombino is an African Blues act, and "Adounia" is the slow building intro to the album Agadez. I like stuff like this on long runs, I can get lost in the phrasing, focus on my breathing, and really pay attention to what's going on with my form.

2. Ane Brun (ft. Jose Gonzalez) -- Worship
This has a similar slow building feeling, but with a more atmospheric guitar part that holds the rhythm. I also like the message to it, even if the song is a bit dark: we don't spend enough time holding our own lives sacred. Running is one of the times that I prioritize my own health and mental well-being. We all deserve "me time" like that.

3. Martyn Bennett -- Blackbird
Martyn Bennett was a Scottish musician who blended folk and techno music, and his album Grit is an absolute treasure. It features some excellent vocals taken from an LP of a folk singer, and also some lovely strings that transport me (in my mind, not literally :P) from wherever I am when I hear them to a beautiful run by the sea.

4. Nitin Sawhney -- Dead Man
Blues and jazz mixed with world and notes of roots music. I love stuff like this. Simple, repetitive, meditative. Nothing like having this pop up in shuffle at mile 13 of a long run. A good steady beat is important to "digging in" in those miles for me.

5. Memphis Jug Band -- Got a Letter from My Darlin'
Go ahead: try and not run light and easy (and also pretty quick, I guess) when you're listening to something this fun and carefree. It's silly but it's also just downright fun. Music like this makes running play time. There's also a great cover by the California Honey Droppers you can check out on youtube. Highly recommended.

6. "Lazy" Ade Monsbrough -- Hiawatha
This one is also in the light and easy vein. Ade Monsbrough was an Australian jazz musician who played jazz recorder. The instrumentation is really neat, and while this particular cut is really short, it's fun when it pops up in the shuffle and calms me down, turns this back into play. Plus, I mean, Australian Jazz Recorder. You'll win any contest of "I can name the most obscure kind of music" at a cocktail party with your friends.

7. Strawberry Alarm Clock -- Incense and Peppermints
Yep. There's a cowbell.

8. Lead Belly -- Rock Island Line
This has a real driving rhythm and it gets progressively faster. Good for mentally waking yourself up.

9. Sa Ding Ding -- Capricorn
Sa Ding Ding is a Chinese pop star who uses Chinese folk music in her stuff (although I've read some mixed reviews of it, and how authentic said folk music is I can't vouch for). In any event Capricorn has a good build to a powerful section of 8 bar phrases which are great for breathing and intervals. She also adds a descant over them on repeats, and that combined with the rhythm can create a pretty enjoyable experience, running wise.

10. Lou Reed -- The Power of the Heart
Its Lou Reed, its a love song, it has excellent string arranging and just is overall excellent. If you don't know this, check it out on youtube first because it is not traditional rock by any means, but it is really excellent art.

Got anything weird and fun that you think I should add? Comment below or message me, I'd love to talk music.

Friends of mine will note how odd it is to see a list of songs I love, but containing no Peter Gabriel. I'll have to write a post on that another time.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Past Lives, Current Lives, Positive Mental Attitude

In another life I was an orchestral musician. I had a merit scholarship to a University, and I studied music education. As much as I loved playing in ensembles, I knew it wasn't what I was going to do for my livelihood for the rest of my existence. Combined with an overbearing rehearsal and performance schedule, and a healthy dose of psychological abuse at the hands of some professors, I do not perform in large-scale ensembles anymore. In all truth I had to take several years off after college from even looking at my instrument. Multiple times I thought about selling it.

I should point out that I'm not a bad player. I've changed as I age, of course, but I actually can really play with a pretty decent level of proficiency. I'm fairly confident knowing friends who have pursued similar paths with similar proficiency that I could get a graduate level degree if I chose to pursue one.

As of right now I have no plans for that. Music for me (on my principal instrument) has become something solely for the practice room: a safe lab where I can experiment with non-verbal sonic communication. I play for my students occasionally but I wouldn't consider this to be performing in any real sense. I perform on other instruments but as a general rule I don't play out on my principal instrument. I'm building my ability, too. I can now do things that were only a faint dream in college. I'm happy with that, I'm proud of it. But this is an inward satisfaction. I feel no pressure to share it with a world I feel so beaten up by.

This summer as I train for my fall marathon I have begun thinking of my endurance training in the same way. I stopped following a plan back in June. I know types of workouts that work for me and I understand how my mileage should progress so that I will avoid injury and build strength. So far I feel like this plan is working and it allows me to dial back and take time to rest or take it easy if I need it. On a fixed plan I tend to punish myself mentally if I need more time. I've run every day for seven weeks straight now. My attitude towards this sport has changed for the better because I've created a safe space in my head: a running practice lab where I can use this conditioning for instead of against me.

And that makes sense because it isn't like I'm trying to win prize money. That isn't my goal. My goal is to keep my sanity and maintain a high level of fitness so I can be a strong father and role model to my offspring.

As runners we have a reputation of thinking about lots of things on our long runs. If you're anything like me you use the time to hash out mistakes you made, or maybe wrongs done to you. My advice would be to use it for that if it helps. But don't lose sight of that as a benefit; change what you need to change about your approach to maximize that benefit.

We should do that in all areas of our lives. Maintain a sense of play and impermanence that allows you to correct mistakes without dwelling on them. Take responsibility, keep things in perspective, and move on. If I reflect on my past it is clear that I have not kept things that light in the past. 

Here's to hoping that I can take what I'm learning about running and carry it over into other areas of my life.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Throwback Thursday #5 -- The "Spin Class" post

In 2014 I had a rough time at my first spin class, and blogged about it over at MFP. I should point out a couple of things, in retrospect:
I hadn't ever biked before seriously at all, and we were told that the class we attended was a beginner class.


I maintain that even if some of these things are "standard operating procedure" the fact that you are paying for a service like a gym means that a service element must be involved. I'm still not sure of the name of the instructor of the class. Or the manager on duty at the gym that night. That's not cool with me.

Anyway, throwback post below:

Tonight my wife and I went to our first Spin class! Those of you who follow me pretty regularly know that we joined a gym again just yesterday. One of the things that drew us to that was the Spin classes.
Let me preface this story by saying, yes, I understand I'm a bit of an idiot. If you read this and think, "You're an idiot," believe me, I understand, and that's how I feel too.
I've never really done any cycling. For awhile last fall in my 5k plan I did one or two days a week on my own at a moderate effort for cross training purposes. I'm very interested in cycling as an endurance sport, though, it's something I want to be able to do in a couple of years with some real ability. I figured Spin class might be a nice way to go about that because I've heard from friends who take it that you can adjust your effort as needed, so you don't push yourself too hard .
So, we got to the gym about 15 minutes early because these classes always fill up. I waited impatiently for my wife outside the locker room, concerned we wouldn't get a bike! Finally she came out, we headed in and set our bikes up. The warm up was about over so we got very little easy pedaling in!
As the class began, we were pushing at a decent clip, and doing some stuff that I imagine is quite common in these classes. The instructor was having us stand up while pedaling, about four beats, and then back down for four beats. Instantly my quads were screaming. I started to take it easy, staying down for eight beats, going up for four (so, I was with the class every other time). I looked at my wife, "Wow, this is killing me. My quads are screaming."
The instructor stopped me, "You need to adjust the seat back, bring the handle bars up more, too." I hopped off the bike and adjusted it. Stationary bikes are a pain, I never know how they're supposed to be set, but someday, I'd like someone to teach me that.
Back on the bike, resuming the up and down thing. We took maybe 16 beats off, or about 30 seconds easy pedaling, and the instructor said, "Time for a big hill!" OK. I've heard about that. I can handle this. I cranked up my resistance to a reasonable degree with the rest of the class.
Here's where @($* gets real, folks.
The instructor began coming around, came to my bike and cranked it up further. OK. She knows what she's doing. I've got this. Then she had me get off the bike and adjust the seat upwards. OK. I hop back on the bike, and with my entire body weight (all 158 pounds of me) I couldn't move the pedals. I was dripping sweat, but I thought, "You know, when I started running, that had some painful times, too. Push through it." I lowered the resistance a bit (back to my original 'hill' setting) and started pedaling again.
We started doing the standing up thing again (I think she called this 'position 2'? someone who knows spin, help me out). The instructor came around and saw me a bit of a mess. "Your shoulders need to be up more! Good! And pedal faster!" That was tough. My legs were not handling this well.
At the end of it, she looked at us and said, "How are you feeling?"
"I think I'm going to fall off the bike." I said.
Seriously, balancing on one of those things is nuts.But I started to feel kind of weak aside from that. I looked at my wife, and told her I was going to grab some water.
I checked my pulse (oh @($*, not good. 190ish). And stumbled to the bubbler (water fountain.) I started to overheat. Crap. I know what's coming next. I remember this.
I stumbled into the locker room, and drenched myself in cold water trying to get my body temp down. I can't collapse in here. My wife will never find me.
I went into the room for stretching and sat near the door. My ears shut off, my eyes started to go dark. I looked at a couple of guys walking by, "Hey, can you guys do me a favor? I'm going to pass out. Can you get my wife from the spin class?" I couldn't even say my own name, but they went and got her.
I closed my eyes, put my head on my feet, and took several very deep breaths. "You can do this. Don't go dark."
I've fainted three times in my life. It's always the same thing, and I hate it really hard every time. First, I feel wobbly. Then, my ears shut off. Then, my eyes go dark. I've gotten decently good at telling when it's coming on, so I made sure to put myself in a safe place this time.
My wife arrived, one of the guys from the gym staff brought a cold towel. In about four or five minutes I was back, and we walked out of the gym to the car.
My wife said, "She seemed pretty embarrassed about that, you know. She thought you had taken Spin classes before." We had a long talk about how embarrassing it was for me, how I shouldn't feel bad about it (although I do) and how I must look like I'm in better shape than I realize (haha!)
"The way I see it, I have two choices in this. I can be embarrassed and never step foot in that class again," I said, "Or, I can go back there and not let this beat me."
But that said, next time I'm going to have to take it easier.

I haven't been back to a spin class there. Honestly, even though I have a bike I have a hard time getting jazzed about it. I'm still in love with the idea of adventure cycling, though. Maybe one of these days I'll get around to it...